By: Leah Hovey
Disclaimer: Before you read this, I want to acknowledge that this is a more personal post. While I will not be going into my complete relationship history (because, really, who wants to hear that?), I felt I needed to discuss the topic of relationships and how they affect you. Please be kind.
Recently, it seems as though everyone around me is facing challenging, melancholy, frustrating problems within the relationships they have. Observing what has been occurring, I find myself realizing there is one common denominator among everyone I have spoken with: they all have lost a sense of who they are. Relationships have various layers of problems hidden beneath the surface. It may be infidelity, distance, over-attachment, responsibilities, a lack of effort, or just falling out of love with someone. Regardless, I hear the same underlying issue come out: someone losing themselves, building themselves around another person, forgetting who they are, or realizing they have completely changed to fit the needs of the other partner. The loss of one’s "self" is one of the most heart-breaking aspects of a toxic relationship.
We go through various relationships throughout our lifetime. They may have lasted a couple of months or lasted several years, but eventually each of these experiences add to who we become as individuals. Whether we like to admit it or not, once we start dating someone, we pick up various quirks, habits, or beliefs from our significant other. This in itself is not unhealthy; however, there are times where we can build ourselves around another person and, in turn, lose our individual identity altogether. This can be detrimental to our idea of self, our self-esteem, and sometimes even our mental well-being. If this occurs, it is important to step back and re-evaluate the relationship. Some relationships can be saved, and some should not be.
While my relationship history is not overly extensive, I have had various toxic, manipulative, emotionally draining, and abusive relationships. Men have controlled me, cheated on me, used me as a crutch, and I was damaged in the process. In almost every circumstance, I have reached a point of no return where I realized that everything I was trying to be was to either impress someone or become someone else to please my partner. There was even a circumstance where I realized I had not yet experienced an adult life (my 20's) without a partner and therefore did not know what I truly wanted. I lost out on academic opportunities, friends, experiences, and for what? For someone I thought I loved.
This is not real love though. To find that genuine, caring, selfless love, you have to know yourself and be happy with who you are. I am a very firm believer that until you know yourself and what you want out of a partner and life, you cannot find or be the right partner. This is not to say you cannot change or grow with your partner, but there is a certain sense of self you need to establish before you can really give yourself to someone. This is a practice of serenity and acceptance with oneself.
Leaving one of the most toxic relationships I had, I thought I was leaving because I needed freedom. I thought being single would be good for me, as I did not have to answer to anyone and I could pursue what I wanted. However, not even two years later, I found myself in another relationship. But this time I did not have panic that my freedom was going to be lost. I realized that with the previous relationship, I felt as though I was missing out on life. I was only missing out, however, because the relationship was controlling, required a lot of sacrifice on my end, and I forgot who I really was. I learned that I could be with a person but not form a complete identity with them.
Figuring out this life lesson was hard, but it truly helped me grow as a person as well as helped me rediscover myself. One of the reasons I know I am in a healthier place within my relationship now is because of something my mom observed about me. She told me she knew that this relationship was strong because I “was back to being the real me again.” With others, I was different and I changed. But my current partner is a person who lets me be my own individual; and because we both give each other the freedom to be ourselves, we are still there for each other at the end of every day.
Learning this lesson is not a simple task. It requires a lot of self-awareness, self-reflection, and a belief that you deserve better. It can be hard to break away from a relationship that is unhealthy for you, especially if there is history, a mass amount of love, and more you can also lose with it. The cost, however, of discovering yourself again or realizing who you really are is worth more than another person can give you. If they do not love you for who you truly are, they are not the one for you. In order to find "the one," you must stay true to yourself.
A healthy relationship keeps the doors and windows wide open. Plenty of air is circulating and no one feels trapped. Relationships thrive in this environment. Keep your doors and windows open. If the person is meant to be in your life, all the open doors and windows in the world, will not make them leave. Trust that truth. - Anonymous